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August 7, 2013
As the 2013 season approaches, BroncoBlitz.com will break down each opponent, in an order of what we feel will be the most anticipated games. We've determined that the 9th most anticipated matchup is a meeting with 2012 East Division champion Kent State.
Kent State Golden Flashes
2012 in review
11-3 overall (8-0 MAC)
Postseason: GoDaddy.com Bowl vs. Arkansas State (L 17-13)
Arguably the most successful year in a less-than-stellar program history, Kent State ran the table in the MAC en route to an 11-1 regular season record (and a real shot at a BCS berth) before falling in two close postseason games to two of the better mid-major teams in the country (Northern Illinois and ASU).
Perhaps the most impressive win for the Flashes came on the road over Rutgers, who entered the game ranked 15th in the country and ended up sharing the Big East title with a 9-4 final mark.
It should be another exciting year for Kent State. Even though a number of pieces are missing, this should still be a team that relies on the big play on offense and the turnover on defense, making them one of the more fun teams to watch around the league.
Gone is Darrell Hazell, the architect of last year's team, and in steps Paul Haynes. Haynes returns to his alma mater after stops at Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State and Arkansas (where he served as the defensive coordinator in 2012).
On the surface, this is an ideal hire for Kent. Not only is he an alum, but Haynes has big-time experience and was generally regarded as a top defensive assistant at OSU, and has plenty of recruiting ties in the area. The concerns of developing a truly dangerous passing game remain, but Haynes shouldn't have any trouble continuing success, even if it's not quite at the lofty heights of Hazell's final season.
Key departures: QB Spencer Keith (54.5%, 2021 yd, 12 TD/10 INT), WR Matthew Hurdle (333 yd, 1 TD), WR Eric Adeyemi (242 yd, 3 TD)
Key returnees: RB/WR Dri Archer (561 yd, 4 TD), WR Josh Boyle (338 yd, 3 TD), WR Chris Humphrey (319 yd)
Gone is Spencer Keith, a three-year starter for KSU that was always somewhat questioned, but continued to hold onto the starting job despite being regularly challenged every year.
Last season it was David Fisher that was brought in from the junior college ranks to challenge Keith. Keith held onto the job and had a fairly average year outside of the wins, while Fisher got light playing time in six games compiling 230 yards, a touchdown and a pick.
It's not a great sign on the surface that Fisher, who will be a senior, was unable to beat out Keith, who didn't stand out in any particular aspect of the game. Redshirt freshman Colin Reardon, who boasts more of a running style, will push Fisher. Fisher's game experience may give him an edge, though Reardon has just as much time in the system.
The good news for whoever wins the job is that they'll have options. Besides what should be a dynamic running game helping them out, the Flashes' coaching staff has indicated that they want to use Dri Archer in the slot receiver spot some more this year, and he already led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last season.
Along with Archer, Josh Boyle has great potential after finishing second on the team in receiving as a true freshman, and don't forget about Tyshon Goode, who compiled 1,814 yards receiving in three years before missing 2012 due to injury. He may in fact be the best wideout on the team.
There isn't a shortage of weapons on the outside, but the Flashes must find someone who can reliably deliver them the football.
Key departures: LT Brian Winters, LG Josh Kline
Key returnees: RB/WR Dri Archer (1,429 yd, 9.0 ypc, 16 TD), RB Trayion Durham (1316 yd, 4.8 ypc, 14 TD)
Kent will continue its vaunted thunder-and-lightning ground game as both Dri Archer and Trayion Durham return for a team that finished second only to Northern Illinois in rushing offense in 2012.
Archer and Durham finished seventh and eighth in the conference in rushing yards, and they did it with vastly different styles. The 5-foot-8, 175 pound Archer, much like in the passing game, is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball and had the nine yard per-carry average to prove it. Durham, meanwhile, at 6-foot-1 and 248 pounds, is an absolute bruiser that can handle a higher workload and wear down a defense.
This makes the running game very difficult to stop, and takes a lot of the pressure off of a passing game that has underwhelmed.
That's not to say there aren't concerns for the Flashes, who lose the impressive, experienced left side of the offensive line. Left tackle Brian Winters was a third round pick of the New York Jets, and left guard Josh Kline was signed by the New England Patriots and will try to make their team in camp, so they were legitimate talents.
Replacing them will be a tall order; although the interior is in decent shape with standout Phil Huff at center and senior Pat McShane at left guard, the tackle spots will be completely unproven. As fans have learned too many times, an otherwise talented offense can be brought down by a weaker line, particularly at tackle, so this is a definite area to watch.
It's commonly held that the Flashes were among the better defenses in the conference last season. It's easy to see why; after all, they've had that reputation for a few years, the team finished 11-1, and they finished third in the conference in scoring defense.
What this might mask, however, is a team that relied heavily on the turnover and didn't do a good enough job of stopping their opponent. Put simply, the Flashes got a little lucky in 2012.
This is particularly true when looking at fumbles, where KSU recovered 15 of the 22 fumbles they forced, likely an unsustainable number. They did excel at intercepting passes, a skill that has shown to be far more repeatable, so it's not all bad news on that front.
The run defense, for its part, was solid. Finishing second in the MAC at 138 yards per game and under four per attempt, the Flashes bring back a stout defensive line led by All-American candidate Roosevelt Nix (58 tackles, 6 sacks, 15 TFL, 3 FF).
Generally using a 4-2-5 set, the linebackers on this defense will have the tall task of replacing Luke Batton, an all-around playmaker that led the team with 143 tackles and accounted for six turnovers.
That unit will be fairly green; Danny Gress will likely start as a fifth-year senior but has seen limited time and Matt Dellinger also saw time as a freshman, but one will need to step up as a playmaker. They'll be helped by Luke Wollett, who plays strong safety but is very aggressive in run support and totaled 119 tackles in 2012.
This is a major point of concern for KSU in 2013. Sure, the Flashes picked off 23 passes last year en route to the top turnover margin in the MAC, but there has to be some hand-wringing over their 12th place finish in passing yardage if the turnover well was to dry up at all.
There's a strong possibility of that, too, as only the aforementioned Wollett (four INTs) returns among starters in a depleted secondary. That's a bit misleading, as corner Darius Polk got essentially starter's minutes and even won the East Division MVP in the MAC Championship game, so pencil him in as a solid corner on one side.
Junior Calvin Tiggle also has loads of potential and was considered an All-MAC contender before missing the final eight games of 2012, so it's not as if the cupboard is bare. What lacks a bit is depth, as well as the fact that KSU lost players that combined for eleven of the team's 23 interceptions.
The pass rush should continue to be solid, though, and that's an often underrated ingredient for forcing turnovers. The Flashes lose Jake Dooley (seven sacks), but Nix (six) and Richard Gray (4.5), who should see increased minutes, return. If Mark Fackler could step up his production in that area, its could again be a positive for KSU.
All the excitement for Kent on special teams centers around Dri Archer, who averaged just under 35 yards per kickoff return and took three of his 16 (teams don't kick his way often) touches to the house. Eric Adeyemi, who also shares kick return duties, was not nearly as explosive taking back punts, so it will be interesting to see if KSU looks to Archer at least part-time in that role.
Placekicking is a relative unknown, as it's expected that sophomore punter Anthony Melchiori will also handle those duties in 2013. Melchiori was highly regarded coming into college, and did not disappoint with a 42.6 yard average helping Kent record the top net punting average in the league.
He was also a highly touted high school placekicker, so the Flashes hope that will translate in a similar way after the loss of steady senior Freddy Cortez.
There are a lot of exciting pieces coming back for this team, but overall there are just too many holes (quarterback, offensive line, throughout the defense) to peg them as a true contender for the MAC East again.
In fact, after researching both KSU and Buffalo, I'm leaning Buffalo's way as the stronger team (though the Flashes host the Bulls). It's difficult, though, because it's hard to see the fourth place team in the division making a bowl game, but just as hard in many ways to see Kent State missing one.
The bottom line is that this is a flawed team with enough playmakers that the presumed East Division contenders, Ohio and Bowling Green, had better bring their A-game when they get Kent (particularly BGSU, who travels to Kent's Dix Stadium very early in the year). It's very difficult to see them winning the division, but I'd bet on them shaking it up with a big win or two.
It's way too early to even begin to predict specific results for games, but BroncoBlitz.com will, almost as ridiculously, predict certain events in each game this fall.
This will be the first Mid-American Conference game for P.J. Fleck as WMU's head coach. With a solid home crowd for the night game, and a KSU team coming off of back-to-back road games at LSU and Penn State, the Broncos get Fleck his first MAC win going away.
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